Barwon Riverkeeper Ted O’Rourke knows the Barwon River better than most. His boat hire and tour business based at Barwon Heads has allowed him to spend most of the past six years on the water.
“I find it exhilarating – to be able to feel the wind, listen to the water and see the bird life.”
Ted first memories of the Barwon River are from his childhood, when his father would take him fishing on family holidays.
These days, Ted still goes fishing and loves to show other people the river. He is constantly amazed at the number of local people who have lived in the area for many years but still don’t know the river. “It’s a real eye-opener for them when you take them up to the lake system.”
Ted says he was shocked at the recent discovery of a blue-green algal bloom at Lake Connewarre, which joins the Barwon estuary. “In my lifetime, I’d never known this to happen.”
He considers the subdivision of land surrounding the estuary for housing to be a major threat to the health of the river. Water extracted for farming and urban use also places extra pressure on the river, as it no longer receives the flushing out it used to get.
“At the moment, we’re robbing the system at both ends – by taking out too much water and putting polluted stormwater back in.”
The growing population of the Geelong region means that demand for water is higher than ever before. Ted has noticed the sandbars of the estuary are growing, as tides bring in the sand and lack of flow means that, rather than being pushed back out to sea, the sand stays put.
Ted fears that one day the river and all that it provides will be forgotten. “There is a risk that if we don’t give this system a chance with environmental flows, one day people will say ‘Why don’t we just backfill it and subdivide it?”
But Ted is confident that the community is strong enough to win the fight for the river’s future. “The community here are switched on, we’ll stand up for it.”
As the newest group to join Waterkeepers Australia, Barwon Riverkeepers are now fighting to get more water flowing down the river, to create a buffer zone of vegetation along its banks and to raise awareness of river health issues in the community.
Story by Anna Boustead